A Prague Restaurant Celebrates Classic Dishes With a Novel Approach



“Kuchyn is a place where people choose with their eyes first and then their nose,” Marek Janouch said. Mr. Janouch is head chef at the latest Prague venture from Ambiente, the group behind Michelin-starred La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise and a host of other restaurants around the city that have been elevating Prague’s food scene. He isn’t speaking metaphorically: At Kuchyn, which opened in July, there is no menu, only a stove with pots and pans where you lift the lids, engage your senses and choose your meal by trusting your gut. (The name, appropriately, means kitchen.)

Housed inside the 1811 Salm Palace (now part of the National Gallery) on Hradcanske Square, the roughly 70-seat restaurant sits just beside the main entrance to Prague Castle and looks out to one of the views that bring millions of visitors to the city every year. It’s this exceptional location that inspired the concept.

“Everything pointed to the possibility that a kitchen may have been located right in the spot that we were meant to transform into a restaurant,” said Tomas Karpisek, Ambiente’s founder.

Like Lokal, the group’s network of neighborhood pubs, the focus is on traditional Czech cuisine, but with earlier inspirations — specifically, the kitchens of 16th-century aristocrats. (A book titled “The Art of Old Czech Cuisine” was particularly helpful, Mr. Janouch said.) Drink options include Czech tank beers, wine and liqueurs.

On a sweltering Saturday one week into a summer heat wave, we opted to sit inside (although a seat at the long wood tables that extend the length of the outdoor terrace offer front-row seats to the view for a cooler day). The view inside is also impressive, though: the centerpiece stove, or hob as they call it, features turquoise tiling that contrasts beautifully with gleaming copper pots.

After an amuse-bouche of halved radishes topped with a dollop of whipped quark and cold chicken with whipped horseradish (both refreshing), one of the servers minding the stove came to our table and invited us to select our main course and one side. Lifting the lids, he presented six dishes: rabbit in mustard sauce, paprika chicken, pork schnitzel, beef in red wine, goulash and a Serbian pork cutlet with seasonal vegetables. There was also one vegetarian option: green beans in béchamel sauce.

Sides included two kinds of dumplings, potato cakes and roasted potatoes. The presentation was gorgeous and the smells enticing, though I wish we had been invited to engage more — it all felt a bit rushed. (The inconsistent service, in general, could have used some fine-tuning.)

But my paprika chicken was remarkably flavorful, and its recommended side of small gnocchi-like dumplings was excellent for soaking up the sauce. My husband chose a wonderfully flavorful pork schnitzel, fried in lard and then roasted in the oven, which helps to keep the meat moist, and the coating golden and crispy; it was sliced and served with a fresh blueberry compote.

Dessert was tvaroh (Czech quark) topped with fresh peaches, nuts and peach purée, an appreciated light end to a heavy meal on a hot day — and the topper to a particularly exciting culinary experience.

Kuchyn, Hradcanske namesti 1; kuchyn.ambi.cz. The average price of a meal for two, without drinks or tip is 1,000 koruna, about $45.



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